Property owners in Bexar, Karnes, Wilson, and Goliad counties will see their property taxes rise after San Antonio River Authority leaders approved a tax increase to fund more detailed and accurate flood models and other measures to improve public safety.

The River Authority’s board of directors on Wednesday approved the 7.5 percent tax increase that will take the tax rate from 1.73 cents to 1.86 per $100 of assessed value, its largest increase in recent years.

The authority had previously approved a $222.4 million budget at its June meeting that factored in the tax increase. The new rate will bring the average property owner’s tax from $31.30 to $35.59, generating an additional $4.8 million in revenue.

River Authority officials originally expected to receive $4.1 million in additional revenue. They now expect an additional $734,606 after receiving updated tax valuation numbers from county appraisal districts in July.

Officials say the rate increase is all about responding to the need for better flood preparedness that emerged after Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas Gulf Coast nearly a year ago.

The authority’s 2018-2019 budget includes:

  • $950,000 for predictive flood modeling to better understand how Harvey-caliber storms would affect San Antonio. SARA plans to spend $1.5 million on this modeling over two years or less.
  • $1.3 million to improve flood plain maps, part of a $4.2 million program over four years. SARA maintains a mapping tool that lets users find out whether their homes or businesses are in the 100-year flood plain (with a 1-in-100 chance of flooding each year).
  • $90,000 to develop and improve watershed master plans, part of a $750,000 investment over three years.
  • $335,000 for green infrastructure along the Broadway corridor meant to help filter pollutants in stormwater runoff and reduce flooding from small storms. SARA officials plan to spend $835,000 over three years, matching the City’s contribution.
  • $300,000 in rebates for public and private entities that install green infrastructure in their own projects.

Assistant General Manager Steve Graham said the tax increase will allow River Authority staff to develop most of these tools over a two-to-three-year period. Without the additional funding, the work would take five to seven years, he said.

“We do feel it is timely because of Hurricane Harvey,” Graham said. “Across Texas, people are willing to pay more for flood protection and safety.”

The increase drew support from the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, according to a statement the chamber’s Vice President of Finance Imelda Davis read before the vote.

“If our community is not prepared for the possibility of a flood, recovery can be slow, stressful, and costly,” she said. “It is therefore imperative that San Antonio is prepared and remain resilient.”

No one spoke against the increase at the public hearing before the vote on Wednesday.

Vice-Chairman Michael Lackey, who represents Bexar County’s District 3 on the River Authority’s board, said officials did not take the need for a tax hike lightly.

“None of us looks forward to any sort of a tax rate increase, but the needs of our community require us to take a hard look at this,” he said. “We’ve been back and forth through this several times with a fine-toothed comb to make sure what’s been proposed is entirely justifiable and judicious.”

All board members voted to approve the increase except for Secretary Lourdes Galvan of Bexar County’s District 2, who was absent.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.